Kenny Vance and the Planotones

CD Review: Kenny Vance and the Planotones, “Acapella”

Kenny Vance and the Planotones, "Acapella" album coverThere will probably come a day in my lifetime when doo-wop is no longer performed or recorded as a viable art form. It will then be relegated largely to blaring out of the speakers at classic car shows and the transmitters of an ever-dwindling number of vintage oldies radio stations. That will be a sad time for American culture, but that’s progress I suppose.

But until that day comes, I am thankful for acts like Brooklyn’s own Kenny Vance and the Planotones and for albums like Acapella. The Planotones, who sprang to life as a fictional band in the 1978 Alan Freed biopic American Hot Wax and have been a real-world group since 1992, are far and away one of the greatest ambassadors of a once-vital genre we have.

This is not one of those vocal groups still clinging to their legacy from the Eisenhower administration and warbling their way through their back catalog on one of those PBS doo-wop specials. Vance and his band not only look the part, they sound it too. To show you what I mean, here’s a clip of the band performing their signature song, “Looking for an Echo.” (Sorry about the video quality, but that’s hardly the point.)

So let’s talk about Acapella. As you might have guessed from the name, the primary focus of the album’s 13 tracks is the superlative vocal blend of Vance, Johnny Gale, Kurt “Frenchy” Yahjian, and Jimmy Bense. That’s for the best, for the Planotones effortlessly recall the golden age of doo-wop while sounding completely fresh and relevant. At their absolute worst, the group is merely very good. But on songs like “I Really Love You,” “Stormy Weather,” and “Mio Amore” they are transcendent.

I’m not going to belabor things on this review, because it boils down to this — if you have even the vaguest interest in doo-wop, group vocal harmony, or just damn fine singing, you’ll want to hear Acapella. I’m sitting here in 2013 and getting the same charge out of new doo-wop songs that an entire generation of music lovers likely got in the 1950s and ’60s, and that’s just really cool.

Acapella is not available on Amazon as of posting time, but you can purchase a copy on the iTunes Store or from the group’s official website. Do yourself a favor and spend the money. Or if you want to listen for free, it’s on Spotify.